Getting Crazy with Spousal Surcharge

In a futile attempt to save money on health care costs, 20% of employers have adopted a spousal surcharge. A spousal surcharge is a nicer way to say: “Get your working spouse off our plan and other their employer’s plan – we’re sick of paying for them!” It is meant to discourage couples from selecting one employers insurance plan over the other. The average spousal surcharge is about $100 per month.

angry-coupleOn Wednesday, UPS decided to take things a step further and completely stop offering insurance to spouses who had other coverage available to them. Since it’s UPS and they are a well known name, it was featured in an article in the New York Times. About 8% of companies in the US follow this practice of not allowing the spouse to enroll if they have other coverage.

First of all, I know that there are some cost benefits for companies to doing this and I do predict that it will become more prevalent as a way for companies to try to lower some of their cost to avoid the Cadillac Tax in 2018. However, for those individuals who have children, I can almost guarantee that parents will start double covering their children because there is no penalty for that and I wonder how much that will drive costs back up. I also wonder the amount of lost work time that occurs while families try to figure out who is covered under what insurance – I have single employees who can’t even remember their own insurance plan.

So before you make decisions like this, try to determine the actual financial impact of this and whether the savings are significant enough to offset the bad PR and employee sense of security as well as any potential increased cost in picking up more dependents and lost productivity associated with confusion about coverage. And I also imagine that somewhere down the line, someone will come up with a lawsuit challenging this or a proposal to change ACA so that coverage has to be offered to employees and families.

Best Online Resources to Teach You About Benefits

Not too long ago someone asked me for information on learning more about benefits. Luckily they were local and I was able to sit down and explain things in person and answer questions. However, I wanted to put together some information about online classes that are available to anyone that has an interest in learning more about the topic. After scouring the web, here is the list I’ve put together for you:

Free online benefit courses

Itunes U

In case you don’t know about it, the Itunes store actually has a section called iTunesU that has several audio and video courses on a variety of different topics. In order to find these classes (I couldn’t figure out a way to link them directly), simply search for them by name in the iTunes store search bar.

  • Liberty University Online – Class: Human Resource Management #9 – Understanding Employee Benefits (7 minutes)
  • NJIT School of Management – Class: Human Resource Management – Lecture #19 – Benefits (~1 hour)

Open Courses

These are a list of other college level courses that are available and cover various different aspects of health and benefits. I also threw in one on Program Evaluation to help anyone that is looking for ways to measure their wellness programs. These are full courses so they are typically several hours worth of content.

Consultant Webinars

Many of the consulting and legal firms offer free webinars on the latest legal changes or other topics that are of interest to benefits professionals. You can generally sign up for their mailing lists and be notified of any upcoming webinars. You can check the websites of Towers Watson, Mercer, Aon Hewitt, Morgan Lewis, or any other largish broker or consulting firm for information about their offerings.

Paid Courses on Benefits

Other people are looking for more formal courses either to qualify for certification or to count toward PHR/SPHR recertification. Here are the two main providers of paid and certification eligible benefit courses.

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans

The IFEBP offers a Certified Employee Benefit Specialist (CEBS) designation with the successful completion of 8 courses and their associated tests. It is considered to be the primary certification for benefits professionals. Study materials cost about $200-$400 per class and an online study fee of $195/class. Additionally, IFEBP also offers other online and in class certification on a variety of benefit topics throughout the year. You do not need to be a member to access their classes, however they all do have fees associated with them.

World At Work

World At Work offers a Certified Benefits Professional (CBP) designation with the successful completion of 7 tests on various benefits related topics. There are associated classes that you can take to help you prepare for the test. The cost is $1,400 – $2,000/class and test or $1,000-$1,500 for self-study and test. In my opinion, the CBP courses offer a bit more depth than the CEBS courses in that they focus on managing plans rather than administration of plans, but that’s just one person’s opinion.


Hopefully these resources will help you learn a little bit more about the world of benefits. Please tell me of any other resources that might be available out there!


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